I like scooters. Life isn’t all about going 140 mph, or scraping your knee on a twisty road, or knocking out crowds of bystandards as you roll up on your thundering machine, chrome and carbon fiber quivering with power and heat. Sometimes you just need a loaf of bread and a lotto scratcher . . . you just want to slap a helmet on and tool around on something light, simple and easy.
What kind of scooter would I want? Well, it would have to be inexpensive, reliable, and cheap to maintain, because who wants to spend money maintaining a scooter? Not me. It would also have to have enough guts to keep up with angry moms in minivans so I could lane-split without getting run over. It better have good storage: that means a bag hook on the front leg shield for the manpurse, enough room for a full-face helmet under the seat, and a luggage rack (so you can bolt on a trunk). Oh, and I like to ride small scoots balls-to-the-walls, so we best have some decent brakes, something many smaller scoots lack. And if you can’t do 50 mph, little scooter, stay home.
I had low expectations of the Honda Elite 110. Small Honda scooters seem militantly proud of their lack of performance, in the way unattractive women cultivate facial hair. The Metropolitan and Ruckus 50s have a hard time climbing hills, and if you remember the old Elite 80 you may recall a cramped, slow and nebbishy sort of machine.
At the plush Luxe hotel in Brentwood (ironically located west of Westwood and probably visited frequently by Clint Eastwood), Honda communications man Jon Seidel gave us the scoop on a new Elite, a new product that will be available in many markets besides the USA. Why a 110? Well, Honda already has two 50s for the low end of the market and the new SH150i is more a freeway-legal blaster, with the 600cc Silverwing meeting the needs of the uber-commuter. So the 110 is for those who need more power than a 50 offers, but not as much speed-or as hefty a pricetag-as a 150. And the buyers are out there: scooter sales were up 40 percent in 2008 (although they have sunk down again during the recession), a result of that magic four-dollar-a-gallon gas price point (since retreated) that has a way of getting people to change their transportation habits.
The new Elite looks like a no-frills scoot until you look under its shiny plastic bodywork. The four-stroke, overhead-cam, liquid-cooled, two-valve 108cc motor uses programmed fuel injection and an 11:1 compression ratio to deliver solid performance, and a catalyzed exhaust keeps it clean enough for EPA, Euro-3 and CARB regs. A 1.6-gallon tank should keep it going a long time: Honda claims over 100 mpg in EPA emissions testing.
The chassis is mostly standard scooter. A ten-inch rear wheel is suspended by a monoshock, with a 33mm fork holding up the 12-inch front. A front disc brake with two-piston caliper and the rear drum are linked by Honda’s CBS (combined braking system) for easier controlled stops. There’s a minimal instrument display, a huge 9-gallon underseat storage compartment, a small locking glovebox, a big seat and folding passenger footrests. It all weighs in at a claimed curb weight (ready to ride) of 254 pounds.
We get turned loose for a poker run . . . to hit four locations in L.A., and due to the sub 150cc engine size, we can’t use divided freeways. First stop for me: the Red Bull headquarters in Santa Monica. I hop on the nearest Elite, hit the starter, bump it off the centerstand with my belly and take off. Even though this bike is made in the Honda plant in Guanzou, China, it feels like every other Honda I’ve ridden: sorted, solid, well made. I’m instantly comfortable and hauling ass down the street, slicing in and out of heavy traffic like a London dispatch rider. That’s made easy by the tiny wheels and 50-inch wheelbase: the bike turns almost before you can think about it. But there’s not a big tradeoff with stability; high-ish-speed turns don’t feel wallowy or unstable.
I collect my card from the hotties at the Red Bull reception desk and get back aboard for a ride to Yoshi Kosaka’s Garage Company, a repository for an amazing selection of motorcycle memorabilia, parts and some rare bikes for sale (although it’s not clear which bikes are for sale). Another card, and we’re off to visit the tiny showroom of Kushitani leathers just a few blocks away. After drooling over the spread-on-toast suppleness of Kushi’s leather, I had three cards-a King and a pair of nines, not bad-but now I looked at the map and saw the next stop was Hollywood Honda. Hollywood! That was 14 miles by freeway according to Google maps, and traffic was looking dense. Luckily, I was banned from the freeway, so I headed up Venice Boulevard.
Riding along the broad thoroughfare, I noted the wide median strip. Why so wide? Venice Boulevard was the route of the Venice “Short” Line that linked downtown L.A. to Venice Beach and Santa Monica with four streetcar tracks. The private railway that operated it sold out in the 1950s as more people bought autos and fewer of them rode the big red streetcars. Much more freedom and mobility in a car, right? But Venice Boulevard is still a great way to cross L.A., particularly when you have a light scooter and legal lanesplitting. I’m greeting Seidel and collecting my fourth card just 25 minutes later. Had I taken a car on the freeway, it would have been a 45 minute trip, and I would probably have instigated about 12 road-rage incidents. If “waterboarding” referred to enclosing somebody in an economy car on I-10 in midday traffic, there would have been no controversy about it being torture.
A bonus stop is the original site of American Honda’s headquarters. A dingy stucco building on a sad stretch of Pico Boulevard. Today it’s the home of an acupuncture clinic. And now I only have 35 minutes to go the 11 miles back to the hotel. No worries; Pico Boulevard provides another ex-streetcar, right-of-way for speedy transit. Like Venice, there are long stretches without signals or cross-traffic, and I can test the 110’s top speed. Flat out, tucked in, I can see an indicated 52.5 mph on the speedometer, a little faster on downhill slopes. There’s a rev limiter in there, according to the Honda guys, but it’s not abrupt, and the motor is so smooth I can barely feel it, even at redline. Cruising along at top speed-much faster than you’re supposed to ride on any city street-is a no-fuss affair. If hill-climbing two-up is a concern for scooter buyers, don’t worry about this one, folks.
Of course, traffic lights don’t care about my top-speed testing, which means it’s time to test the brakes. They are much stronger and easier to use than I’d expect from their numbers. Grabbing both levers hard doesn’t skid the Cheng Shin rubber: we just come to a smooth, safe halt. Braking is a weak point for small scooters, but the Elite 110 stands out as having some of the best brakes I’ve experienced on anything this size.
I get back to the hotel well before the deadline, so I can take a minute to contemplate the Elite 110. At $2999 it’s not the cheapest scooter in its class, and it’s limited to city streets, which could be a deal-killer for a lot of scooteristi. But if you’re not going to ride on the freeway-and I ask a lot of people, do you really want to ride a small displacement, small wheeled scooter at freeway speeds?-it’s as peppy and capable as most anything. Factor in that huge trunk, which could hold a couple of bags of groceries, that big passenger seat (with footpegs and grabhandles), smooth, torquey motor and great brakes and you have a very good transportation tool that’s cheap to run (I rode about 40 miles and used less than a quarter of that 1.6-gallon tank, according to the fuel gauge) and easy to ride. The best part is that you’ll be having just as much fun as the happy blonde people in those ’60s-era “You Meet the Nicest People” Honda ads. My only concern is supporting a Chinese-made product, but considering my laptop, iPhone, toaster-oven, and most of my riding gear are made there as well, why fight it? Might as well make my Honda there, too. Maybe someday I’ll have a pacemaker and donor liver from there too. A boy can dream.
I didn’t have a winning hand, but I did have a great day riding around what now seemed like a very small city. Could I have made those stops in a car in under three hours? Maybe. But I would have spent more money and not have been happy at the end of it. Honda isn’t forgetting the U.S. scooter customer, and now has a nice range of little red machines for your personal transit system.
MD Readers Respond:
- Sweet article. My late wife and I used to have a Yamaha Vino 125’s (along with motorcycles and sports cars) and they were some of the most fun vehicles to drive. How about doing a scooter comparison between the Vino 125, the Elite 110 and what ever else you can round up? Fred
- “Only in America (includes nearby Island Nations) or Europe can you acquire a ‘scooter’ costing MORE than a motorcycle?”
Kindly review the latest 2009 ‘scooter’ sales information (Dealer News) for a (-)67% REDUCTION in Stateside interest for anyone’s scooters!
(PIAGGIO’s latest announced global sales results confirm such.)
Industry historically trails public interest while ‘T.C.O.’ is not mentioned within motorcycling today?, (DUMB! Wasn’t always that way!) Bill
- Loved your Honda scooter review. I plan to get this or the SH. They are both sweet and I am happy to see scooters gain in popularity. They are so practical and cute! Come on! I used to be a big bike rider, but have always liked the smaller, lighter, more nimble varieties better. Would you happen to know anything about the SH300 Honda scooter that is out in Europe but not in the US? I hear it is a rock star ride. Have a good one. Tyler